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Charges: Wisconsin DNR's top sturgeon biologist lied about their caviar scheme

Investigators say DNR workers would give sturgeon eggs to caviar processors after they were done with their fertility research.

Wisconsin's top sturgeon biologist is accused of lying to conservation officials regarding an apparent scheme to give lake sturgeon eggs to caviar processors under the guise of fertility research. 

Ryan Koenigs, 36, of Appleton, Wisconsin, a senior fisheries biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources who is known as Wisconsin's "sturgeon general," was charged Feb. 10 in Calumet County, Wisconsin, with resisting a conservation warden, a misdemeanor, court records show. 

Koenigs, who has been the state's top sturgeon biologist since 2012 and oversees about 60 DNR employees, was placed on administrative leave on Thursday, the Wisconsin DNR told The Associated Press, but would not comment further. 

This comes days before Wisconsin's annual sturgeon spearing season on Lake Winnebago, which begins Feb. 13. Koenig had recently sent out a Wisconsin DNR news release about the upcoming season, saying they expect high harvests thanks to better water clarity this season.

The charges

The charge against Koenigs stems from a joint investigation by the Wisconsin DNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 2017, they began investigating allegations that DNR workers were illegally selling and/or trading sturgeon eggs in violation of state and federal law, according to WBAY, which cites the criminal complaint.

Investigators by January 2020 found multiple people were illegally selling, buying, bartering or trading sturgeon eggs. And when investigators interviewed Koenigs, he said DNR workers collect sturgeon eggs as part of a fertility study, saying they'd return the eggs to spearers who wanted them back after they'd been studied. 

He told investigators he wasn't aware that DNR workers were putting eggs in a cooler marked for a caviar processor and claimed he never called the processor, but phone records showed otherwise, the complaint states, according to reports. He also said he didn't know DNR workers were giving the eggs to people who weren't involved in the research. 

Other DNR workers apparently admitted to investigators that they'd take sturgeon eggs to caviar processors on occasion, with one caviar processor telling investigators he made 65 pounds of caviar out of eggs the DNR provided in 2015, FOX 11 reports, citing the charges. 

Last week, Koenigs admitted to investigators that instead of throwing out the eggs when they'd finish their research, his staff took eggs from five to six sturgeon to caviar processors every year, The AP says, citing the complaint. He also admitted to accepting 20-30 jars of caviar a year from processors and would give them to his co-workers for their personal use, FOX 11 notes.

Investigators allege Koenigs false statements added hundreds of hours to their investigation, which would have been much shorter had he not lied to them, according to reports. 

Other DNR workers and caviar processors could also be charged in connection to the years-long sturgeon egg scheme.

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